Tuesday, 10 December 2013

love glitter

We are well and truly immersed in glitter. It is everywhere.

Christmas comes but once a year, and in this setting it comes with oodles of glitter.

Glitter is fun. Special. Glitter is absent from the setting for about 9 months of the year, a bit like snow. When it arrives it makes the children giddy with anticipation and excited to use it to the full.

One of todays activities was to decorate polystyrene balls using pva glue and sequins, on a tray. I thought it would be fun, but I knew within minutes that this was not a winner. One child backed away in confusion, one child painted the tray with the glue and the other child was very worried about getting the glue on their hands. I had not foreseen how difficult it would be for the children to hold on to the polystyrene shapes.

As no one was enjoying the experience we all ended up in the cloakroom washing hands and playing with the soapy bubbles in the basin. And then all traces of sequins and polystyrene shapes were removed from the playroom.

Thank goodness we still have plenty of glitter.

Friday, 29 November 2013


You may have noticed that I took a break from blogging. I'm back, not that I've been anywhere. I have just been busy and other things have taken priority.

Childminding is quite overwhelming sometimes. The amount of effort it takes to run even the smallest of settings seems at times disproportionate to the number of children 'on the books'. I think it is due to doing everything single-handedly.
People may think that once I close my doors at the end of the week that I have nothing more to do than enjoy my weekend. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its takes 15 minutes to tidy the playroom, deal with the nappy bin etc. Then I carry my planning folder into my office along with the childrens folders and spend the weekend writing observations, cross referencing where the children are in their learning and thinking about the next week.
At the moment I'm also preparing summative 'reports' as we near the end of another term. And I need to write up some notes from a training I recently attended,  and as a result of the training I am reviewing a policy. I say reviewing, what I mean is totally rewriting. I do a lot of research online, anything from formula feeding protocol to the benefits of children being/playing outdoors. The list of jobs is endless. True, not all I choose to do in my own time is completely necessary, but as any small business person knows 'you get out what you put in'. That applies to the children too.


When I last bogged the world of childminding was sitting on the edge of a precipice. We'd lost our Networks, Elizabeth Truss was attacking with calls for the 'French system' and everyone was worried about the quality of childcare as we believed ratio's were about to be eroded. Not much has changed, and then again everything has changed. Childminding Agencies are being piloted in certain areas and will be rolled out next year. There appears to be quite a lot of trumpet blowing about what a great thing a Childminding Agency is. I do not believe a word of it.

Ofsted have also joined in the attack on childcare by 'toughening up' the inspection process. I personally really do not think childcare is of such a poor standard in this country. I have my own little theory on all this nonsense. Its not a matter of raising the bar, its more about moving it so we have to find it again. So Ofsted will inspect using the new Safeguarding, Safety and Teaching criteria. We will see an overall lowering of grades given, but as settings adjust and learn what Ofsted are looking for we will notice a gradual improvement once again in the grades. And soon Ofsted will be able point out how they 'improved the quality of childcare'.


This is the tip of a massive iceberg of change taking place now. The problem is the government is not listening to my professional colleagues, they are too focussed on money and statistics to notice the iceberg will melt, and sink us all.  

I've mixed metaphors. Never mind.





Thursday, 21 February 2013

The writing on the wall

The Children and Families Bill is going through parliament, it has its second reading in the House of Commons on 25th February.

Part 4 deals with childminder agencies.
Incidentally this all comes at the exact same moment that the West Sussex Childminding Networks disappear for good.

Of course these two (networks and agencies) could not occupy the same space. It was on the cards that Networks would be going, although why they disappeared so abruptly is not known.
-And just to make it clear: Networks and Agencies are in no way the same thing, although with some changes the Networks could have taken this role, and after all they were going a good (if financial unsustainable) job-.

Losing the networks has come as a bitter blow to many experienced childminders who relied on the network co-ordinator to support them. Not that childminders needed help with the day to day issues of running their own business, because us childminders run our own small businesses very successfully. Network co-ordinators helped with advice on which training or qualification to go for next, dealt with the cascading of information from ECS, they also provided encouragement to childminders to continue reflecting on their practice, and they assessed childminders before they became FE childminders. Network co-ordinators also supported newly registered childminders by matching them with an experienced childminder to be their 'buddies'. Since their inception the Networks have raised the quality of childminding in West Sussex, they were a great success and were widely recognised as such.
Of course recently things started to unravel, funding was cut and the areas each remaining Network co-ordinators covered increased to such a ridiculous level it was unworkable. The writing was on the wall and underlined in indelible ink, when the Childminding Conference was suddenly cancelled, childminder training reduced and Forum meetings postponed it was only a matter of time before they were lost.


What network co-ordinators did not do (because their job was about ensuring quality not profit) was find us work, they did not do the childminders paperwork, nor charge parents and childminders for the services provided. But it seems that is precisely what the agencies will do.

Agency childminders will not be individually inspected by Ofsted, which begs the question how can the quality of care be measured? If Ofsted is the ‘sole arbiter of quality’ but does not inspect the indivual agency childminders the grade given to the agency will be meaningless. Don't parents deserve better information before they send their child to a childminder? If Agencies then start grading childminders according to their judgement but have business factors to take into account will there not a conflict of interest and their judgement on quality be questionable?

Are childminding agencies a way of reducing costs for Ofsted and privatising the whole registration system pushing costs onto Childminders and parents? Yes.

Childminders who remain independent will have their work cut out keeping their business sustainable. They will probably be expected to pay dearly to have individual Ofsted inspections and training may cost more (If local authorities no longer have a role to improve quality they will have no reason to subsidize training?).

Removing quality improvement from the remit of local authorities will reduce the support for quality in Early Years settings. And what will happen if the whole of Early Years, (nursery, pre-school and non-agency childminders) are made to rely on the Ofsted inspection rating as the sole test of whether they can offer funded early education for two, three & four-year-olds? Settings will be able to ask for another inspection (something that doesnt happen now) if they are disappointed with the grade recieved and have since made steps to improve,  but they will be focused on meeting Ofsted's standards not neccessarily the best exaimination of quality. Look at local authorities quality assurance schemes and compare that to Ofsted requirements! They are two different things!

So what of Funded Education? and then there is the sticky point of Tax credits and employer vouchers. Too many questions and not enough answers as yet.

One thing is apparent, Elizabeth Truss is ploughing ahead. There may be a Bill going through Parliament, and a consultation in progress but that isn't going to stop her.

I'm really not a political animal, but I am passionate about quality childcare and I'm worried about the agency model.


(As well as the More Great Childcare consultation document, there is also a chance to comment on the Children and Families Bill through a process being piloted called public reading. http://www.parliament.uk/public-reading/children-and-families-bill)



Monday, 11 February 2013

advertising vacancies

It is snowing hard, even though in the photo it doesn't look like it is.

My mission today was to put a postcard advertising my vacancies in the window of the local store in the neighbouring village.

It had started to snow before I went out to catch the bus. The bus was on time and I noted with relief that the road was clear as we left the village. The road has a habit of flooding in the spot where the road dips down into the rife, before rising again to a safe level. I knew I was going to have to walk back along the road which is why I was feeling relieved the road was clear. It was still snowing when the bus dropped me almost outside the store, I paid £3 to have my postcard displayed for 6 weeks, and then left to walk home. The bus doesn't do the return journey anymore. It did until last year when some bright spark (or group of bright sparks) decided  it was unnecessary. Now the only way to get from my neighbouring village to my village is to either walk or get the bus to the next village along and wait for the bus to return from the town, and get on that. 

But enough of buses.

I started to walk home and as I left the village I entered a small wood. It was snowing even harder and the path was a quagmire. Just inside the wood was a pile of twigs and branched, so I selected a sturdy stick to help me stay upright because even with my walking boots on it was very slippery. I stopped to take a photo of the snowdrops, and of the sheep eating turnips in the field and so it took me a good 10 minutes to pass through the wood. Its not really a wood as such, more a narrow corridor of wooded land squeezed between fields and a road. When I reached the far end I left my walking stick lent up against a tree for the next walker who comes by that way.

I had to walk along the road now. There's no footpath and it is quite a busy road that twists and turns and narrows as it approaches my village. Which means I spent a great deal of time stepping onto the grass verge to avoid cars and lorries, and the closer I got to my village the more tricky it became to find enough room on the verge to stand and not find myself in the hedge. It is not a walk I do often, and I would never take children that way.

The whole outing took less than an hour. I hope my advert generates some interest.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

being reflective

what was missing - friendship and peer support.
I'm a very experienced childminder, confident in my work (but always learning). Unfortunately because of where I live (see my second ever blog post) I'm not able to meet with other childminders very often. Peer support is so important when you work alone, it provides the opportunity to share ideas and find out about trainings etc. Sometimes you just need to chat while the children socialise. Today I could have done with a bit of peer support.  
seeing the characteristics of effective learning in action. I observed a child figure out for herself how to do something.
I resisted that huge temptation (that comes over us all) to wade in and offer help. I watched her work it out and then practice doing it over and over until she had mastered the skill. Brilliant!

Monday, 28 January 2013

I don't like......'reforms' to childcare by politicians

So the long awaited announcement on 'reforms' to childcare will be made tomorrow...after being leaked more efficiently than a dropped milk carton on the kitchen floor.
The announcement will I believe to bring to fruition Elizabeth Truss plans that have been hinted at over the past 9 months, to radically alter childcare.
Higher ratio's-
The government wants to relax rules to allow nurseries, pre-schools and childminders to take on more children and be able to exceed the customary ratio's imposed in the EYFS12 (as the ratios have been going back into the mists of time, being the safest most effective number of children for an adult to care for while ensuring the children are supported fully in their learning and development). The suggestion that more children and fewer staff  will bring down the cost of the childcare to parents is ludicrous. Of course it will not work like that, because correct me if I am wrong but the number of children in the nursery will not rise significantly because the EYFS space requirements will still have to be met? or are we just about to make thousands of nursery nurses redundant? unless of course the government see this as a solution to the crisis in the building industry by building nursery extensions? or may be they expect to drop the space requirements of the EYFS and pack more children in? (but children in early years do not sit quietly at tables, they like to run, jump, climb, dance , move, crawl, spin and explore the environment using all their senses). Young children need space, they need to be able to take risks, overcome physical challenges, and they need an adult to ensure their safety while they do it!
Nursery ratio's are already higher than a childminder (depending on age) because the children are (generally) in rooms or groups, there is always another member of staff to cover comfort breaks, and (generally) the children do not go out into the wider community every day. But I find it hard to believe that any parent would want cheaper childcare if it means leaving their toddler in the care of one nursery nurse looking after 7 other toddlers.
At present I can have 3 children under 5 year old here at any one time, and I can in exceptional circumstances increase that number by granting myself a variation. But I'm not superwoman and the quality of the care I provide is more important to me than anything. The thought of routinely having 4 or 5 toddlers fills me with grave concerns for the welfare of these very young children. I don't know about anyone else but the last time I looked I only had two hips & two arms to carry toddlers, and one lap. On a good day with a fair wind I might just be able to provide quality childcare for four young children- if they were not teething, had a good nights sleep and the weather was agreeable.  But above all higher ratios, whether in a nursery or childminders will compromise safety, and they will lead to poorer outcomes for children.
More 'teaching'-
Strange one this. I already care and educate, its called the EYFS.
Nursery: new staff –
Apparently the Government is hoping they will be paid more than existing staff - and they will have to have a C grade in GCSE Maths and English. There as been some suggestion that early years in this country is somehow failing by Elizabeth Truss (currently an Under-Secretary at the Department of Education, although she was not in that post back in March/April 2012 when she began looking for a solution to the childcare problem) because of the calibre of our early years workforce, and Ms Truss has looked to Europe for an answer. I do agree there are some valuable lessons to be learnt from European countries, mainly that children do not start formal learning until they are 6 or 7 years of age! However this fact has historically been ignored by all politicians over here. Although if European children start school later but make better progress I would argue it is the school not the childcare system that is wrong in this country.
Mothers to become childminders-
Government want more Mothers to become Childminders. Well if you have a workforce of mother's at home with their own young children it would indeed make sense to encourage them to find employment that is compatible with being at home. It remains to be seen if all these new childminders will find enough work. I doubt it. I personally do not know many childminders without vacancies, this fact speaks for itself.
Childminder hubs (agencies) -
The 'agency model' was being talked about in the same breath as deregulation for childminders. The guess (because we just don't know any details as yet) was that childminders would join an agency that would match them with parents requiring childcare. Fees might be negotiated by the agency, they would certainly take a fee for the matching and in return monitor the childminder, provide some training and save Ofsted needing to inspect every single childminder- therefore saving Ofsted money. Questions yet unanswered: What would be the point of taking childminders out of the open market? What would be the primary goal of agencies? would it include raising the standard of childminding? or providing cheap childcare for parents? Which childminders would be the target subject of the agency- the Satisfactory childminders to raise standards? or the Outstanding childminders?  What would happen to childminders who do not want to join an agency? Would those childminders still have access to training? What benefits would there be to joining an agency, and what disadvantages would there be? And would childminders who did not join an agency still have Ofsted inspections? Would parents use an agency if they have to pay a fee on top of the childminders terms and conditions? Would childminders (who are self-employed) be free to continue to set their own terms?
There are many other questions. My first one is I wonder if Ms Truss really understands childminding in this country and does she value childminding as it stands?
I am very uncertain about the future of childminding, and about my future as a childminder. Our hope lies within the early years sector. The uproar already expressed even before the announcement has been made will I hope make the government pause for thought. And it will have to pass through parliament.
Out of all of this muddle one thing is becoming clear. The guiding principle that The Child should remain at the centre of everything we do, and that we should focus on ensuring positive outcomes for All Children, has slipped from the governments agenda. It is now more about convincing parents that cheaper childcare will help them into work, will keep them in work, and is the best thing since sliced bread.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

a few activities

I discovered it is possible to make white playdough (as opposed to the beige colour playdough you get if no food colouring is added ) simply by using cornflour in the place of flour. I wanted a  hint of sparkle so added a good measure of white and silver glitter. The recipe worked well despite my slight panic when the mixture looked so wet in the saucepan that I doubted the instructions and didn't use all the water. I realised my mistake as the cornfour absorbed the water and solidified as it cooked, and the result was slightly drier and definitely crumbly. But it was pure white.
Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of just the playdough, every picture shows a child too so I can not share them. But I can say that it was a great success.
Today we played with shaving foam, I added a few sequins and bits & bobs for some fine motor skills practice.
Another sensory/messy play activity the children enjoy is Gloop, which is a mixture of cornfour and water. Sometimes I add glitter or sequins to it. It has very interesting properties, seemingly a liquid but solid beneath the surface. We are going to try an adaptation of the usual recipe: 500g corn flour, 350ml hair conditioner; when I've bought some hair conditioner.

And finally, a few of the baby's favourite things: wooden spoons, pegs, jar lids, honey 'spoons', wooden & metal bowls, sensory bottles and wooden eggs.


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

the List

I'm so proud of myself. My first day back and I've kept to my List beautifully.

In fact I've ticked the first item on my List which is 'allow yourself 15 minutes of tidy up time and 'writing up' after the last child has gone, then shut the playroom door'.

There are many things on my List, but non more important than Point Number One.

Tonight I am working on some ideas for tomorrow's activities and I must make another batch of playdough, this time I will not be adding the usual food colouring but I will add white and silver glitter instead.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The challenges of 2013

New Year resolutions. I often feel I should make some and then before I know it the new year is here and I rush into it without any planning on how I'm going to achieve the 'Lose weight, take more exercise and eat more greens' mantra. Putting my personal health goals aside for the time being, the question is what are my resolutions/goals for childminding?
Well I've been reading comments on some of the childminding forums and it seems the most popular resolution has been to reduce paperwork and keep on top of the accounts. They are both very valid aims and mine is similar as it is to be more efficient. I tend to procrastinate and time management is not my strong point.

So how to achieve this goal? Lists
I have decided that is the only way to go. I will have a to-do list, I will prioritise items on the list into important/urgent, non-urgent, and things that I would like to achieve but that are not essential. My aim is to become effective (probably still stressed) but not overwhelmed and stressed- which is how I feel now sometimes.


Over the holiday period we have decorated the playroom. Furniture has been moved around, a large piece of furniture has been discarded and I am now in the process of trying to put it all back together again. I childmind from one large room, I call it the playroom but in reality it is our conservatory and is part of our home- we use it too. Getting the home/work balance right is difficult, I often feel it is 80% a childminding environment and only 20% part of our home. For example the children need a low table to paint on and have playdough, but it needs to double up as a snack table, and it needs to be within view of the Tv (only put on during snack time) but close to the toilet for hand washing after painting and not on the rug so that I do not end up with banana, playdough or paint trodden in. That is just one consideration, there are dozens of other decisions to be made for childminding about the placing of furniture, the type of necessary furniture or the spaces available and their uses. How my family might want to use that room is always the last consideration.
I work from home in an environment that is set up for children, every decision that is made about home is made with the considerations of childminding in the forefront. Childminders will know what I mean. I know there are plenty of other types of businesses that are run from an office, workshop or studio in the home, they like me often have regulations around health & safety & environmental health but they do not have the EYFS and Ofsted to deal with or the needs of young children to provide for. 
The placing of furniture is one thing, how to leave the childminding mode behind at the end of the working day is not so easy, in fact for me it is impossible as I think it is for many childminders. The lists might help me use  office time more effectively but no doubt I will still spend a great deal of time thinking about childminding, it is what I do and what I enjoy doing.

There are two new challenges/threats this year. One is the expected announcement on the deregulation/changes to childminding, which I will say no more on until the facts are published.

The other challenge will be how the new 'nursery' opening locally in May this year will affect my business and what I can do to weather that storm. I can not compete but neither do I plan to fall into the 'wrap-around provision' trap of rushing around picking up and dropping children here there and everywhere. My aim has always been and will continue to be, to provide an oasis of calm for children in their very early years.
Happy New Year.